Medical Innovation with Mini Heart Models

Through the International Foundation for Ethical Research, and with your generous support, NAVS is helping advance the development of human-relevant models that can provide safer and more effective solutions to human health needs.

Researchers studying the safety and efficacy of drugs could certainly benefit from more predictive, human-relevant models. Cardiovascular toxicity is one of the main reasons drugs fail during development, in part because current pre-clinical models lack in vivo relevance. For that reason, NAVS has supported research into improved in vitro cardiotoxicity models.

Today, we would like to share with you some interesting progress in this area of research from biotech firm Novoheart. The company has been working on developing mini human hearts using stem cell and bioengineering approaches, because, according to their website, “Traditional animal models such as rodents, dogs and pigs are accessible but major species differences in the cardiac anatomy and function exist. What works in animals may be ineffective or even lethal in humans.”

Using 3D tissue engineering, they have developed a model called the human ventricular cardiac organoid chamber, a human “heart in-a-jar” model which mimics fluid pumping similar to natural heart, on a macroscopic level. The model is able to reproduce the way the heart would respond to drug treatments, electrical stimulation and mechanical loading.

One application of this model is to use it to predict cardiotoxic effects of new drugs early in the drug development process. Another is to model disease by making heart models with genetic abnormalities. According to Novoheart’s Chief Scientific Officer Kevin Costa, there is a need for such models, since “pharmaceutical companies that are designing drugs for treating the disease have not had models that adequately mimic the human symptoms for testing their new therapies.”

Dr. Gabriel Wong, Vice President of Scientific Development at the company, noted that, “Overall, we have witnessed an industry-wide trend to explore human stem cell-based assays as a move away from traditional animal testing, and the support of regulatory agencies such as the FDA will likely encourage increased adoption of these assays as new standards.”

NAVS is encouraged by this news, as we too see the benefits of human-relevant models in drug testing and many other areas of research. We will continue to keep you posted on interesting advancements with these models and remain committed to supporting their development.

Help NAVS fund the development of human-relevant alternatives that can replace the use of animals in science by making a donation today.


Image credit: Novoheart

Fearn, N. “How Miniature Human Hearts Will Revolutionize Drug Testing,” Forbes. January 2019.
Wong, G. “Why stem cells are at the heart of medical innovation,” Asia Outlook. Issue 36.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on January 28, 2019.
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